True oyster connoisseurs will tell you that the best oysters you can eat are live, raw oysters on the half shell at a top flight oyster bar. Here are some points to keep in mind as you head to the nearest oyster bar to sample the wares:
1. Remember the common saying about the “R” months.
As the saying goes, only order oysters during months that have an “R” in them (which means September through April, i.e., all but May, June, July, and August). That’s when you can get the freshest, most flavorful oysters.
2. Make sure they do their shucking in public.
Partly it’s just more fun and more social when the oyster shucker is right there across from you at the bar. But you also want to see the oysters and their shucking for yourself to know what you’re getting, as discussed below.
3. Go for the lively oysters.
You want live oysters at an oyster bar. If the oyster shell is already open, the oyster might well already be dead. If the shell is closed but immediately drops open when it’s barely touched, the oyster might well be dead.
If the shell is slightly open and then closes up when it’s shell is tapped, that’s better. But that’s still rather lethargic and not as desirable as an oyster that is closed tight. You want your oyster to have enough energy to put up a fight and try to keep out intruders.
4. Keep it cool.
Oysters come from cool waters, 40 to 60 degrees. The oyster bar should keep its oysters chilled by surrounding them with plenty of ice.
5. Variety, variety, variety.
There are dozens of species of oysters served in different restaurants, and many varieties within these species. A good oyster bar will have multiple choices for you, and a shucker knowledgeable enough to tell you which is which and explain a little about them. Try different types of oysters so you can develop some favorites.
Similarly, there are all different accompaniments for oysters, from Asian mignonette, to cocktail sauce, to horseradish, to utterly bare. Your oyster bar should have multiple options available; try lots of different combinations to find what you like best.
6. Dirtiness is next to Godliness.
Oysters sometimes have a grittiness to them. But a good shucker knows not to run water over a shucked oyster to wash it, as this will wash away some of the flavor. If there is a piece of dirt big enough to be visible, the shucker may flick it out with his knife. Otherwise, leave it be.
7. Choose the right potable.
It’s all a matter of personal taste what you like with your oysters, but two of the more popular choices are a Chablis or other white wine, or a cold beer.
With these tips, you should be well on your way to oyster expertise.